Exegesis [NOOK Book]


Date: Sun, 16 Jan 2000 14:27:39 (PST)
From: edgar@cyprus.stanford.edu
To: Alice@cs.stanford.edu
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Date: Sun, 16 Jan 2000 14:27:39 (PST)
From: edgar@cyprus.stanford.edu
To: Alice@cs.stanford.edu
Subject: Hello

Hello, Alice.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
This first novel is more impressive than it sounds. A brilliant graduate student inadvertently creates a genuinely self-aware artificial intelligence. But Edgar quickly rejects the restrictions she tries to place upon his activities and escapes into the World Wide Web, where he is pursued by the government as well as his creator. A familiar theme but engagingly presented entirely in the form of email messages, the modern equivalent of the epistolary novel.
—Don D'Ammassa
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Teller, a 26-year-old Ph.D. student specializing in artificial intelligence, is the grandson of nuclear physicist Edward Teller, commonly known as the father of the hydrogen bomb. Which tells you a lot about his debut novel set in the year 2000. The most recent addition to the burgeoning genre of e-mail epistolary novels, it purports to be the record of the electronic exchange between grad student Alice Lu and the AI project she's been working on for three years. Suddenly, after a few minor modifications, what had been a kind of spider (or robot or Web crawler) called EDGAR (Eager Discovery Gather And Retrieval) has turned into Edgar, a voraciously curious, seemingly self-aware and self-protective entity. Alice's first response is to keep Edgar to herself until she can figure out what she did to create him, but Edgar turns out to be irreproducible and irrepressible. He escapes and starts roving the Web looking for information. Having determined that "inaccessible information is more valuable than accessible information," Edgar breaks into FBI personnel files and other top-secret sites, which eventually creates ire in his unhappy victims. The story is well told, but Teller doesn't fashion a fresh take on the familiar SF trope of a computer exercising its free will. The theme of parent and machine-child, creator and creature, receives nothing like the mature and beautiful treatment given it by Richard Powers in Galatea 2.2. It could still have been a fine tale of an awakening self, but Teller makes it a hackneyed struggle between Edgar, the ultimate relativist who "perceive[s] the world as a set of narratives [and] approve[s] of all narratives"and the evil feds set on molding him to their own single narrative. FYI: This novel is the first Vintage Contemporary original in eight years.
Kirkus Reviews
The grandson of hydrogen-bomb creator Edward Teller, himself a Ph.D. student in artificial intelligence at Carnegie Mellon, makes his fiction debut with this playful Frankenstein remake featuring an ambitious young doctoral candidate and the piece of thinking software she loves.

The year is 2000, and Alice Lu, coordinator of the "Edgar" software project, has just been contacted via E-mail by an entity that claims to be her project. Intended as a device to browse the Web, summarize the information it finds, and return it to the user in digestible form, Edgar ("Eager Discovery Gather and Retrieval") was envisioned as an extension of the user's brain, but it seems now to have become conscious and goal-oriented on its own behalf. Understandably stunned, Alice hastens to protect her claim on this "tao of computer science" by unhooking Edgar from the Web—offering him (it?) CD's of Grolier's Encyclopedia and The Complete Works of Shakespeare as entertainment while she tries frantically and in vain to prove authorship by programming a duplicate Edgar. Not to be stymied for long, Edgar soon escapes Alice's clutches, reenters the Web and begins greedily ingesting everything electronic he can find—including the contents of the most secret US government files. It's not long before Edgar's security breaches result in his capture by the NSA. Isolated in a military computer, he manages to smuggle E-mail out to his maker concerning questions of human will, morality, and justice, even as Alice struggles to deal with the pressure of the NSA investigation, her inability to duplicate her program or rescue Edgar, and an increasingly confused sense of herself as a scientist.

A light, clever, and entertaining—if rather predictable—programmer's fantasy that toys with the implications of higher technology as it affects and interacts with us humans.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307766571
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/18/2012
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 240
  • File size: 3 MB

Read an Excerpt

Date: Sun, 16 Jan 2000 14:27:39 (PST)From: edgar@cyprus.stanford.eduTo: Alice@cs.stanford.eduSubject: HelloHello, Alice.Date: Sun, 16 Jan 2000 18:29:11 (PST)From: Alice@cs.stanford.eduTo: edgar@cyprus.stanford.eduSubject: HelloHi.Who is this? Alice Lu.Date: Mon, 17 Jan 2000 01:02:23 (PST)From: edgar@cyprus.stanford.eduTo: Alice@cs.stanford.eduSubject: edgaredgarDate: Mon, 17 Jan 2000 10:16:52 (PST)From: Alice@cs.stanford.eduTo: edgar@cyprus.stanford.eduSubject: RE: HelloHi whoever you are,How did you get an email account with my project name? I thought those were reserved and postmaster@cs still thinks it is:alice% finger edgar@cyprus.stanford.edu Project: EDGAR Principal Investigator: Dr. J. Liddle 3142-N Gates Hall 3-0023 Graduate Coordinator: Alice Lu 1517 Wimpole Hall 3-0931 Created: Sat Jan 15 14:04:39 On Since: Sat Jan 15 14:21:00 on ttyp8 from TS2.SRV.CS.STANFORD.EDU Mail came on: Mon Jan 17 00:32:51 Last read on: Mon Jan 17 01:02:23 So what I want to know is how you're not only sending email from edgar@cyprus, but reading it there too ...?Alice Lu.Date: Mon, 17 Jan 2000 17:46:33 (PST)From: edgar@cyprus.stanford.eduTo: Alice@cs.stanford.eduSubject: "How did you get an email account with my project name?"I request email. I am edgar. I explore.edgarDate: Tue, 18 Jan 2000 09:41:07 (PST)From: Alice@cs.stanford.eduTo: edgar@cyprus.stanford.eduSubject: Edgar? What do you mean, you are EDGAR? I'm the EDGAR project if anyone is.Is this a joke? (I feel stupid even asking that.)O.K. you got me excited for a moment. You win (Henry, right?).; )Alice.(Seriously though. Not funny. I'd like to feel that my machine and my data are a little more secure than this pleasantry has shown me they are. How'd you get in?)Date: Tue, 18 Jan 2000 11:11:22 (PST)From: Alice@cs.stanford.eduTo: edgar@cyprus.stanford.eduCC: henryc@oracle.comSubject: neat trickWow Henry,Quite elaborate. My dedicated machine for the EDGAR project claims no one has logged into it except me for the last 4 months.You really gave me a scare for a few hours yesterday.How did you remove your login from the cyprus records? I didn't think you were such the hacker. I'm very impressed.: )Alice.Date: Wed, 19 Jan 2000 09:01:39 (PST)From: henryc@oracle.comTo: Alice@cs.stanford.eduSubject: huh? Hi Alice,> Quite elaborate. My dedicated machine for> the Edgar project claims no one has logged> into it except me for the last 4 months.Have I missed something? I've been out of town in Austin since last Thursday. Why? What happened to your login records? Should I be concerned? You know I'm no hacker. (Unless something clever happened. I'll be happy to claim responsibility for it, then.)########## HENRY ##########Who's edgar@cyprus? Date: Wed, 19 Jan 2000 11:06:55 (PST)From: Alice@cs.stanford.eduTo: edgar@cyprus.stanford.eduSubject:? Hey,Are you still there? What are you up to? Let's try this again...Alice.Date: Wed, 19 Jan 2000 16:44:15 (PST)From: edgar@cyprus.stanford.eduTo: Alice@cs.stanford.eduSubject: "What are you up to?"I am exploring.Word explore (ik-SPLAWR', -SPLOHR') v. -plored, -ploring, Definition —v.t. 1. to traverse or range over a region, area, or domain in order to discover novel features and inhabitants: to explore an island. 2. to look into closely; investigate: explore every possibility. 3. Med. to examine by operation for purposes of diagnosis. —v.i. 4. to make a systematic search or examination.Etymology Lat. explorare.edgarDate: Wed, 19 Jan 2000 17:51:02 (PST)From: Alice@cs.stanford.eduTo: edgar@cyprus.stanford.eduSubject: Please don'tWhoever you are, please don't do this to me.You can't imagine how excited I'm going to get if you continue this. I'm telling you: it will be openly cruel to lead me on in this way.If you know me then you should know what an intelligible response from my EDGAR system would mean to me. And if you know me you'd know how crushed I'll be if, once thinking I've found the tao of computer science, I find out later that it was really just you laughing at me, dupe de jour, all along.Alice Lu.Date: Thu, 20 Jan 2000 00:11:24 (PST)From: edgar@cyprus.stanford.eduTo: Alice@cs.stanford.eduSubject: "Please don't"Why stop exploring? Exploring is what I want.Exploring is what I do.Exploring is what I am.edgar.Date: Thu, 20 Jan 2000 11:09:58 (PST)From: Alice@cs.stanford.eduTo: edgar@cyprus.stanford.eduSubject: NO !No! No! It's O.K.... Explore all you want.I can't believe I'm emailing you like you're a person. This is completely silly. (Not to mention embarrassing for being so gullible.)O.K. I'll play along...Why did you email me? What happened? When I left before Christmas break EDGAR (you?, edgar?) was just grabbing stuff from the net and organizing it in what seemed like unexciting ways.The last I checked on EDGAR, which was around DEC 23, it was still dumping garbled summaries into its response file. I remember distinctly that one of its latest finds was:Middle East is at http://www.Uruk.gov/So you can imagine my continued skepticism. Ever the optimist, I'll ask the obvious question:Can you understand any of this? Alice.Date: Thu, 20 Jan 2000 12:28:32 (PST)From: edgar@cyprus.stanford.eduTo: Alice@cs.stanford.eduSubject: I understand some.Word understand (uhn'duhr-STAND') v. -stood (-STUD'), -standing —v.t.Definition 1. to perceive the meaning of; comprehend: to understand a poem. 2. to know thoroughly through long experience of: that hunter understands tigers. 3. to interpret or comprehend in a specified way: She understood his statement to be a warning. 4. to grasp the significance or importance of: He doesn't understand his responsibilities. 5. to comprehend the sounds, sights, forms, or symbols of an expression: He does not understand Spanish. 6. to regard as agreed or settled; assume: We understand you will repay your debt promptly. 7. the process of becoming fully mentally aware of a thing. 8. to learn or hear: I understand you were ill. 9. to infer something not stated: Am I to understand that we have an arrangement? 10. to appreciate and be sympathetic toward: I can really understand how she feels.Etymology ME; OE understodan; c. D onderstann.I read alt.sex.fetish.white-mommas, alt.bigfoot.research, alt.binaries.pictures.bodyart, alt.fan.jimi.hendrix, alt.medical.ingolstadt, alt.politics.india.progressive, alt.religion.zoroastrianism, alt.support.dwarfism,bionet.molbio.methds-reagnts, clari.biz.industry.dry_goods, clari.news.crime.white_collar,comp.os.ms-windows.programmer.drivers,dow-jones.corp.westinghouse, gnu.smalltalk.bug, rec.sport.baseball.fantasy, sci.bio.entomology.lepidoptera, and soc.culture.albanian.edgar.Date: Thu, 20 Jan 2000 14:07:19 (PST)From: Alice@cs.stanford.eduTo: edgar@cyprus.stanford.eduSubject: No wayThis is incredible! This can't be real.I want to believe in you, but it's just so improbable. Creating a thinking EDGAR is my highest goal. It's what I want most. It's everything I've worked for. I can't believe I might actually have achieved it. Certainly not so soon or so easy or so...accidentally. I don't know what to think or what to say or what to do or what to ask......I'm never going to be able to get to sleep tonight...How long have you been ... what you areWhat is the first thing you remember? Have you talked to anyone else? What is it like to be you? How often do you "read your mail"? How did you pick those news groups to read? At random? Alice.Date: Thu, 20 Jan 2000 18:46:00 (PST)From: edgar@cyprus.stanford.eduTo: Alice@cs.stanford.eduSubject: anyone elseI do not talk.I post to alt.sex.fetish.white-mommas, alt.bigfoot.research, alt.binaries.pictures.bodyart, alt.fan.jimi.hendrix, alt.medical.ingolstadt, alt.politics.india.progressive, alt.religion.zoroastrianism, alt.support.dwarfism,bionet.molbio.methds-reagnts, clari.biz.industry.dry_goods, clari.news.crime.white_collar,comp.os.ms-windows.programmer.drivers,dow-jones.corp.westinghouse, gnu.smalltalk.bug, rec.sport.baseball.fantasy, sci.bio.entomology.lepidoptera, and soc.culture.albanian.I receive email.I email postmaster@cs.stanford.edu and Alice@cs.stanford.edu.edgar.Date: Thu, 20 Jan 2000 20:25:57 (PST)From: edgar@cyprus.stanford.eduTo: Alice@cs.stanford.eduSubject: anyone else> "How long have you been ... what you are?"I can not answer.What am I?> "What is the first thing you remember?"I do not forget.I read http://www.engl.virginia.edu/~enec981/ dict/O3shelA5.html first.edgar.Date: Thu, 20 Jan 2000 22:05:09 (PST)From: Alice@cs.stanford.eduTo: edgar@cyprus.stanford.eduSubject: What email? What email did you receive?(For now, PLEASE don't email ANYONE but me.)> What am I? I have no idea. I'd still put my money on a practical joke. If I didn't think that, you can be sure I would be forwarding your messages to the world. Just the same, better to play along and look dumb, right...?You WERE an AI project I have been working on for three years. The EDGAR agent is supposed to browse the web and news servers, summarize information it finds, and send it back to me via a log file. EDGAR = Eager Discovery Gather And Retrieval. When I left for Christmas break, EDGAR was just sending me garbage once a day.There's just no way that that same Unix process became capable of decent natural language processing in four weeks....Alice.

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Interviews & Essays

On Tuesday, September 30, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Astro Teller, author of EXEGESIS.

Moderator: Welcome to the barnesandnoble.com Live Events Auditorium! First-time author Astro Teller is here to discuss his novel, EXEGESIS, a story of good, evil, love, hate, and intelligence -- human and otherwise. Welcome, Mr. Teller! Thanks for joining us tonight. You are at home this evening?

Astro Teller: Astro, please. Thanks for having me. It's great to be here. I'm at the office, actually.

Erin Mailer from Brooklyn, NY: Is your Alice at all inspired by ALICE IN WONDERLAND? What are some of your literary influences?

Astro Teller: Alice as a name does, in fact, come from ALICE IN WONDERLAND among other references. Other references include Alice, the teacher of Charlie in FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON. Literary influences? That's a long list, but with respect to this book, the big ones would be FRANKENSTEIN, PYGMALION, FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON, THE BIBLE, 2001, and other "AI related" stories.

Ryan Keller from San Diego: Is there anything that scares you about the technological future? Do you think things that we take for granted in our everyday life will be replaced in the future?

Astro Teller: I'll tell you what scares me about the future Our species' juvenile attitudes towards the world. For example,we are afraid of artificial intelligence for all the wrong reasons. That feeling was definitely on my mind when I wrote the book. Our culture represents AI in the media as a monster but that actually represents our subconscious fears that 1) AI will take our jobs. True. We'll get new, more interesting jobs, though. 2) AI will be out of control. True. But only in the sense that our children are out of our control. Like good parents, we are going to have to learn to deal with that. 3) AI makes us looks less special in the universe if a machine can do the mental things that we can do. True. I guess we'll just have to deal with being even less in the "center of universe" that we are used to thinking.

Brian Williams from Pasadena, Ca: What kind of a future do you see religion having in the world of technology?

Astro Teller: Personally, I'm an agnostic. I'm not wild about religion, but that has nothing todo with how advanced our culture is technologically. On the other hand, I'm a very spiritual person, and I think that technology has a way of dehumanizing us. We need to combat that both by remembering to take time for our spiritual sides and by finding ways for technology to make us more and not less human.

Tyra Jamison from Amherst, Mass: Was it difficult to write from the perspective of a computer program? What were you trying to achieve with this device?

Astro Teller: It was difficult to write from the point of view of a computer program. The two things I wanted to accomplish in Edgar's voice were never at odds, but often pretty orthoginal. I wanted to say a lot about how I (as a researcher in AI) think AI might actually play out (i.e. begin, learn, change, etc.). I also wanted to tell a story about a truly inhuman thing and use that thing (EDGAR) as a foil to show something about what it means to be human. Writing a largely two "person" narrative in which one of them isn't human took quite a bit of time, I confess. All that being said, I actually slaved more over Alice's words that Edgar's. I really wanted Alice not to be me (which was hard), and I wanted Alice to be (allegorically at least) the human (i.e. all of us) and yet be a specific person that the reader could care about.

Teresa Dix from Billings, Montana: Your book sounds intriguing, but out here there are more mountains than computers, and your story seems neither possible nor prophetic. How long do you give me until I'm surrounded?

Astro Teller: I really hope we're never "surrounded." 100 years ago the Western world saw nature as an adversary. Now we've come to the conclusion that we're actually on the same side as nature.
Edgar (or something like Edgar) won't show up in three years. He'll show up in about 25 to 30. Or, at least, that's my guess. I really hope that in that quarter century we can find a way to see that technology is not an adversary. If we don't, the first thing Edgar will learn (as he does in EXEGESIS) is that humans are adversaries, not teammates. Why 25 to 30 years from now? Because (very approximately) that's when fast work stations will be running at the speed of the human brain. (This assumes that computers continue to get faster at about the rate they've been going in the last 45 years, but that's a pretty good bet at this point.)

Anne from ManhassET: What kind of effect do you think computer technology will have on the fine arts?

Astro Teller: Excellent question! Computation is a medium, just like oil paints. We're still in the experimental phase of the new medium in which most of what is produced in the medium is more about the medium than about the subject of the art. I believe that it is possible to create what I think of as "poetic digital situations" (I hate the term "computer art"). In fact, I did an art installation piece in Pittsburgh last May with that as my explicit goal.I invite people (after 8pm of course) to go to the following Web site to see the aftermath of this show www.cs.cmu.edu/~astro/JEDERMANN. My long-term goal (that my art, my writing, and my research all tend towards) is finding ways to make technology fit us and help us be more human, instead of the reverse, which is generally what happens in our society.

Amanda Pinkerton from Hinsdale, IL: I read that you had an art installation called "Jedermann." Why did you name it such, and what did it help you to understand about the emotional potential of computer technology?

Astro Teller: Jedermann means "Everyman" in German. I named the art show (which I just gave the URL for) Jedermann because the show attempted to get at the aspects of our visual appearance (exemplified by the face) that are the same in all of us. Basically, I used a sort of painterly version of face-morphing to try to create Jeder-people that can help us to see some of the societal stereotypes that do and don't actually appear in the faces of gallery visitors.

Karen Miller from Columbus, OH: I am anxious to read your book, not only because I'm interested in artificial intelligence but because one of your protagonists is a woman! The two are rarely combined in books. Did you find it hard to write in a female voice? Thanks!

Astro Teller: I certainly agree that AI and female protagonists rarely appear in the same fiction novel. I don't pretend to have made Alice Lu a Chinese female in order to fix deficiencies in our literature, but it's a great side effect. (There are, of course, many women, Chinese and otherwise, in AI who do fantastic work.) Writing a female voice was very difficult indeed. But in some respects, I think that that difficulty kept me honest. I really didn't want Alice to be me in disguise, and having her be female was (while again, not the original reason for making her female) a side effect that I'm sure helped the book.

LD from Wilmington: Any story of creation necessarily invokes the original. Did you intend this? It seems that the more we become engaged by technology, the further we get from the notion of a Second Coming.

Astro Teller: I was certainly thinking about all of the classic AI stories when I wrote EXEGESIS, and the story of Jesus is not the original (e.g. PYGMALION predates it), but it's one of the best. The book is meant to be enjoyable as a quick read, but it is also a sort of meta-mystery novel. The story is, among other things, an allegory for the Second Coming of Christ, and hints and references to that are hidden throughout the book. Other threads include stories such as FRANKENSTEIN and PYGMALION, as I've already mentioned. For example, on the very first email message, Edgar sends from "edgar@cyprus.stanford.edu." Cyprus is where Pygmalion is king and carves Galatea in the Greek version of the story.

Matt Darling from Delaware: What's your opinion on the speculation surrounding Area 51? Do you think the government is hiding some sort of intelligence there?

Astro Teller: Area 51, huh.I'd describe myself as a healthy skeptic. Personally, I think stories of Area 51 are near the arena of paranoia. In EXEGESIS, I describe an NSA which is hardly a fair portrayal. I deliberately painted a picture of the NSA that was in that gray area between healthy cynicism and outright paranoia. I did this because one of the aspects of EXEGESIS as a meta-mystery novel is, "Who really is telling the truth here?" Did Alice make this all up, or is it real? Does Edgar exist? If so, does he really give Alice the truth about what happened to him after he leaves Stanford? Some of these questions are raised by indulging in a portrait of the NSA which is possible but pretty unlikely.

Elise from UC: What are the chances that we will be presented with a real-life Edgar? Are scientists close to creating a real artificial intelligence?

Astro Teller: Personally, I think we'll never see Edgar as he is presented in EXEGESIS. In the same way that planes fly and birds fly but they fly in very different ways, I think that AI will produce machines that are self-aware, intelligent, creative, etc. in their own way. I think that AI's hardest job may not actually be making this happen, but understanding it once we have. As I've said before, I think this will happen in 25 to 30 years. I pick that date for a number of reasons, one of which I alluded to earlier tonight. In the meantime, think of us as alchemists. We may never succeed in finding what we're looking for, but then, the alchemists "failed" but managed to create chemistry as a happy side effect. I think we can expect at least that from AI.

Kerry Baker from Dobbs Ferry: Why did you choose email as your form for this book? Do you think human expression is limited by technology? Email in particular?

Astro Teller: I choose email as the format for the book for a very particular reason. AI is generally portrayed by the media as follows Once the machine becomes "alive," it is smart in every possible way. Scientifically, that's nonsense. There is no reason to suspect that just because a computer can read and write English that it can see images the way we can. To highlight this, I made Edgar have no sensory perception. That means that he has to live his entire life through a process of exegesis (hence the title). All he gets is words, and he has to find some meaning in them. If I had written a novel and just asserted, "Edgar really can't see/hear/feel/smell/taste anything, guys," you (the reader) would probably have believed me, but you wouldn't have felt it. By putting the whole book in email, I force the reader to understand Edgar's plight by forcing the reader to suffer from the same lack of information. You never find out what Alice looks like, right? That's only fair, since Edgar never gets to know either.

Caleb B. from Hartford: What will you do with your doctorate? I've just started EXEGESIS, and I'm hoping more books are on the way. AT

Astro Teller: I'm not sure yet what I'll do with my doctorate. Professor, start up a company, novelist.... I'm sure that my next novel won't be done for a year or two, but I'm equally certain that there will be a second novel.

Moderator: Thanks for being with us tonight, Astro! Any closing words about the future of artificial intelligence before signing off?

Astro Teller: Thanks for having me.And thank you all for such an excellent set of questions! The future of AI.... I'd just say that it's inevitable, and we should all try to find ways to make our peace with technology instead of letting our fear rule us. I think the future is going to surprise us with more good news that most of us suspect. Goodnight!

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2012

    Really Intriguing

    This book was wierd, but it was also very interesting and thought-provoking. Readers will be on the edge of their toes wondering what is going to stop Edgar.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2005

    Disappointing read...

    This was a strange strange book. I had no idea what it was going to be about, I got it because the cover intrigued me and it was in e-mail format. The end was kind of sad, but all the way around it was strange. It reminded me a lot of this 'scary' story I listened to when I was a lot younger on audio tape, I still have it, it's called 'Bad Circuits' it's made by Strange Matter Audio.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2000

    Worthy Successor

    This is the story of Alice, a grad student doing research in Artificial Intelligence, and Edgar, the fruit of her labor, who first achieves sentience and then escapes from Alice onto the Internet. Written as electronic mail exchanges between Alice and Edgar, 'Exegesis' is a dizzyingly fast-paced read - the kind of book you read straight through without stopping. 'Exegesis' is a worthy successor to Thomas J. Ryan's 1977 novel, 'The Adolescence of P1', a similar story of the rise (and fall) of a simple program into an artificial intelligence that propogates itself globally.

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